Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Do all stories start at the beginning?

I’ll introduce myself as quickly as possible. I find this may be necessary as my background is not typical and my upbringing has had a large impact on decisions I have made and my understanding of the world. 

I was born in Flint, Michigan, USA to a baby boomer couple from Catholic families. The first of three boys, I grew up feeling a sense of responsibility to set an example to my two younger brothers. This fed into my innate desire to please my parents and almost every adult I knew. I won’t say I was a perfect child, but I often tried to portray myself as one. 

When I was four years old, my parents left the Catholic Church and converted to being Jehovah’s Witnesses. This decision probably had the most potent ramifications on my future life. Instead of enjoying a “normal” childhood, complete with celebrations of my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays, I was subjected to going to church three times a week and engaging in door-to-door evangelizing work on most Saturdays. I didn’t have friendships with classmates or neighbor children outside of our religion. 

Being a natural people-pleaser, I did everything I could to make myself popular with the adults in the congregation. This included being a regular commenter at our meetings (religious services), doing speaking assignments, and putting in several hours a month in the preaching work. I was regularly commended for my zeal by the grownups and I ate that shit up. I don’t remember if I ever really had a firm belief in god, but if I did, that was less important than the praise I was getting from humans. 

This insatiable appetite for approval and recognition, coupled with the doctrine that the world was going to end soon, led me to leave high school after my sophomore year to join the ranks of “pioneers”, believers who spent 90 hours a month going house-to-house engaging in Bible conversations with the aim of converting those who listened. Not one of the adults, including my parents, raised any concerns about me not finishing school. Instead, I was given accolades for my righteous decision at 16 years old. 

All of this positive attention had the effect of making me quite the arrogant asshole, though I didn’t recognize that until later. 

I later was invited to serve as a volunteer at the headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, an honor greater than any other for a young man in the religion. I stayed for one year, then left to marry a girl I met in the congregation where I was assigned in Poughkeepsie, NY. We moved to a suburb of Washington D. C. where my parents were living, and started our married life. I was twenty-one years old. 

I continued to do my best to be a righteous and highly-visible member of the organization. I was appointed as a ministerial servant (deacon in other religions) and was given responsibilities and speaking assignments. Since I had developed my skills as a speaker and a teacher of the doctrine, I was assigned to help out with giving counsel to others enrolled in the weekly public speaking school. Later, I was made an “elder” in the congregation, with weighty responsibilities including passing judgement on “sinners”. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do much of that.

One of my tasks was to manage the “Ministry School”, in which enrollees would be scheduled to speak in front of the congregation for five minutes on an assigned Bible subject. I reveled in this job as it gave me many speaking opportunities and I do believe that I was helpful in assisting others to gain confidence in their own speaking abilities. Basically, I taught a public speaking class. 

I didn’t have the luxury of doing full-time ministry as I had to work 40 hours a week at rather menial jobs. Growing up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses pretty much denies a person a university education. Higher education is viewed as unnecessary and dangerous to your spiritual health. This has had the effect of robbing many young people who are brilliant and talented of the opportunity to do great things, and instead relegates them to unskilled and low-paying positions. 

I did my best to find work that paid our bills, but it was a constant struggle. We found ourselves in debt often, and more than once had to be assisted by my parents. This problem was exacerbated when our son was born, followed 15 months later by our daughter. I sometimes worked two or three jobs to try to put food on the table and keep the lights on. 

I ended up changing jobs often. If you are familiar with the 1990s hit movie, “Wayne’s World”, that scene where Wayne Campbell informs the audience that he’s “had plenty of joe-jobs, nothing I’d call a career. Let me put it this way: I have an extensive collection of nametags and hairnets.”

While not all of my employment was in food service or required a uniform, much of it did. I was firmly a blue-collar worker, with brief stints allowing me to do sales. I found that this was an enjoyable type of work, because my youth was full of experience talking to people about why ours was a better way of life. I’ll grudgingly admit that the training I had in the ministry and public speaking did prepare me for employment where I could excel. However, their policy of no college dashed those opportunities. 

At any rate, teaching English was NOT one of my scores of jobs during my three decades in the American workforce. So you may wonder how I ended up on the other side of the globe, spending time with Asian children to help them to say things like, “Hi, my name is Apple and I am six years old.”

How did I become “Teacher Bob”?